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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Suicide Bomber Strikes in Ankara, Turkey; Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch Dies; Chuck Hagel Questions By Senate; Interview with Senator Dan Coats

Aired February 1, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with breaking news this morning. There's been explosion outside of the U.S. embassy. It's taken place in Ankara, Turkey. It's been reported just minutes ago.

At this hour, we are hearing that several people have been hurt. We're going to bring you to the Pentagon for the very latest on this story just ahead.

Also, breaking news this morning. The former mayor of New York, Ed Koch, has died. He was 88 years old. We'll take a look at his legacy this morning. He was a controversial, combative, confrontational and brash mayor, and the people of New York City loved him. We'll tell you about that, straight ahead.

Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And the first jobs report, Soledad, of 2013, released in about an hour and a half. I'm going to have the numbers for you and what it means for the health of the economy and the jobs market.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And the Defense Secretary nominee on the defensive. Chuck Hagel grilled on Capitol Hill. Did he blow his shot to convince lawmakers that he's the right man for the job?

O'BRIEN: It's Friday, February 1st, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Breaking news, we start with this morning into the newsroom. Two people have died, several people have been wounded in an explosion that's taken place outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

Let's get right to Chris Lawrence. He's at the Pentagon with more on this for us this morning. Chris, good morning. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Not much information right now. Turkey authorities are responding to that scene, trying to collect more information. The blast happened just a short while ago. Some of the news reports out of that area, saw a big flash, heard a big bang. And there were reports of several people wounded near a side gate of the embassy. Of course, we're waiting for more information, the U.S., of course, has two major air bases in Turkey no, where near the capita capital. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We'll continue to monitor this story. Chris, thanks.

Also, as we told you just moments ago, the former New York City mayor Ed Koch has died. We learned he passed away from congestive heart failure. He had really problems with his health over the last many years. Mayor Koch was elected in 1977. He was a former Congressman then judge on the People's Court. He had been hospitalized recent with fluid on his lungs. He was moved to intensive care yesterday. He was 88 years old.

Richard Socarides joins us this morning. He's a writer for NewYorker.com former senior advisor to President Clinton. Nice to have you with us. You knew the mayor Koch, and when I was a kid growing up in Long Island, Mayor Loch was almost a mythical figure.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: He really was larger than life. When I grew up in Manhattan, he was mayor, and as you said, he was very feisty, said what he thought. New Yorkers loved him. He gave New York some tough love. He would say whatever he thought, famous for saving the city from bankruptcy. But also governing at very challenging times, beginning of the AIDS crisis, racial tension and diversity, issues of racial tension and diversity in New York. He served during very challenging times, took very controversial positions, no one questioned he loved the city and a fighter for New York always.

O'BRIEN: His personality itself, a lot of New Yorkers identified itself as the New York personality, someone who loves the city so much. But also he was a fighter. Some of the quotes as we've been reading, talking about his passing. "You punch me, I'll punch you back."

BERMAN: The most famous of all was asking "How am I doing?" And the voters for a long time said very well.

O'BRIEN: He was a three-term mayor, but had challenges when he was running for governor, of course.

SOCARIDES: I mean, most of his elections involved some controversy because of what he said. And he had a very nasty run in a primary when he ran for governor against Mario Cuomo, who went on to become governor. That's not what I think people will remember today. I think people will remember him fondly as someone who really fought for New York. He was very much a presence in New York City.

O'BRIEN: No question.

SOCARIDES: I think the last time I saw him was within the last month, I mean, his health had been up and down.

O'BRIEN: He was very frail. The pictures going into the hospital, and into intensive care, he was very, very frail. His health had declined.

SOCARIDES: I think I probably saw him within the past four to six weeks out, and, you know, you could tell his health was not great. But he was out. He was vibrant, vibrant until the end.

O'BRIEN: Mayor Bloomberg has leased a statement that I want to read a little bit of it. He says "Through his tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship, Ed helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on the course for an incredible comeback. His wit and wisdom will forever be a part of a city he loved so much."

SOCARIDES: He was such a big New York figure.

O'BRIEN: Such a personality.

SOCARIDES: Such a big New York personality. I suspect there will be a very moving couple of days of tributes to him and an important funeral, and it really rents the end of an era in New York, his passing.

O'BRIEN: We'll keep talking about that this morning, of course.

Also another story we're following for you as it develops, intense manhunt going on right now for one or maybe two suspects after an assistant district attorney gunned down outside a courthouse in Texas. His name is Mark Hasse, a prosecutor in Kaufman County, 30 miles outside of Dallas. He was killed, shot several times as he got out of his car in the courthouse parking lot yesterday. Authorities are now pleading for leads. The FBI is on the case. His boss had a message for those responsible.

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MIKE MCLELLAND, KAUFMAN COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hope that the people who did this are watching, because we're very confident that we're going to find you, pull you out of whatever hole are you, bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.

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O'BRIEN: Drew Griffin is in Kaufman County, Texas, for us this morning. Drew, tell us about a little bit the leads as narrow as they are in this case.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are going back into this guy's caseload. It's 30 years he'd been a prosecutor, knew the inherent risks. Some cases he was working on recently and whether or not they could be tied to the Aryan brotherhood, white supremacists. Two members were sentenced -- excuse me, pled guilty in Houston, Texas. That was a federal case, but the Kaufman County attorney's office did aid in the case. But right now they're looking for anybody with any leads. He was shot dead right here in this sparking lot behind me just as he was walking to work. No death threats against him at the time, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Drew Griffin, this case really is a mystery. Thanks, Drew, for the update.

Another story we're following this morning, that continues to develop, the hostage standoff in Alabama that we've been talking about since Tuesday. A little boy, five years old, kindergartner, is now being held a fourth day in that underground bunker. Police say there is nothing that has changed overnight. The boy appears to be unharmed physically. They continue to communicate with the suspect using a big PVC pipe coming out of his bunker.

George Howell has been covering this story for us in Midland City. Tell us more about the bunker. I know there are some new details about that.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, there's a neighbor I spoke with the other day. This is the same neighbor who said Dykes fired a pistol at him back in December. This neighbor has been on the property. He has seen the bunker and took some time to describe to me this place where Dykes has been hiding out. Take a look.

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HOWELL: Jimmy Davis Jr. and his family have been neighbors to Jimmy Dykes since he moves to this area and bought property here more than a year and a half ago, and Davis says he's seen the bunker first hand.

DAVIS: He told me it's a storm shelter, and I have not seen that in about eight to nine months. I'm not sure what he's done to update it or anything.

HOWELL: When you saw that bunker, what did it look like? How wide, how deep it was?

DAVIS: It was like a 15 by 15 foot wide in length and about 12 foot deep, and it was lined with bricks, like the little red bricks.

HOWELL: Davis says Dykes' travel trailer, where he lives, sits 20 yards off the road. Just behind the trailer is a massive steel shipping container that Davis says Dykes used as a shed. And behind that, slightly to the left, sits the underground square bunker.

DAVIS: He actually had cinder blocks going down the steps and covered up with two sheets of plywood nailed together with hinges and stuff as a door to open to it.

HOWELL: Davis saw the bunker early in its development. He says it had a tarp and sand over the top. He also noticed a PVC pipe buried in the ground from the bunker to the front gate. Dykes told Davis that he put it so that if he was in the bunker he could hear people or cars approach the front gate.

Did he ever give you any indication as to why he built this bunker?

DAVID: A storm shelter is what he told me. I forgot where he told me he used to live, but he said back where he lived there was a bunch of tornadoes that would hit close to his house, so he was preparing for it and wanted to make sure he had somewhere to get in.

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HOWELL: Soledad, I can tell you when you talk to neighbors out here, they describe Dykes as a paranoid person, a person who worried a great deal about alien abductions, and one neighbor told CNN affiliate WSFA that Dykes may have known the slain bus driver, Charles Poland, at least in passing. This is a bus driver with a routine route through this area, near Dykes' home. It's unclear, Soledad, the reason that compelled him to get on the bus and make off with a child to hide out in this bunker on day four.

O'BRIEN: Such a bizarre story. George Howell as he continued to cover the story. Thank you, George, appreciate it.

More information on the explosion we were just telling you about outside the U.S. embassy in Turkey. We can confirm one is dead. John has an update on that story and also the rest of the day's top stories, too.

BERMAN: Thank you, Soledad. We are also learning that it was a suicide bomber and at least two people were hurt there as well. Ivan Watson live for us, covering the story from Jerusalem this morning. Good morning, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. That's right, a blast in Turkey's somewhat sleepy capital outside the very well protected U.S. embassy there. This is in a very well protected area, not far from the Turkish parliament. There's a large police presence there.

And we're getting initial reports that blast occurred near the main entrance to the U.S. embassy. I've been to the entrance and it is at least I would say kind of 20, 30 yards away from the embassy offices. You have to go through a succession of doors there and metal detectors and so on.

Now, Turkish officials are telling our sister news agency in Turkey, CNN Turk, that two people were killed in this explosion and two more wounded. We don't know what kind of a blast it was. Could it have been an accident? It seems unlikely, but it's still far too early to announce this is some kind of an attack.

As for possible motives, if there was a possible attack there, is a long list of organizations inside Turkey that carried out bombings in the past, running a full spectrums along the political ideologies from anarchist groups to Kurdish armed militant groups to Islamist groups. Al Qaeda has carried out attacks in the past against British consulates in Turkey. And of course, you have this war on the Syrian border next door happening right now. So there are a whole host of groups and organizations that could theoretically organize an attack if, in fact, this was an attack.

Another thing to add, Turkey is a NATO ally of the U.S. and in the last morning the U.S. has dispatched hundreds of U.S. personnel, as well as patriot missiles near the border between Turkey and Syria to help protect Turkey from aircraft, airstrikes, and missile strikes from Syria. This gives you a little of the political background as rescue workers scramble in Ankara in the wake of this deadly explosion near the U.S. embassy. John?

BERMAN: And just this week so much going on in the region, going on in the world. Of course you have the news of the Israeli bomb strike in Syria. You have the news in the United States it's Hillary Clinton's last day at the state department today, so some significant events going on around the world. Are these the types of things that authorities will be looking at to piece together if there was a motive behind whoever might be behind it?

WATSON: Listen, there's no question that the tension in the region has been ratcheting up, not only because of the raging Syrian civil war with Turkey backing the opposition there, the U.S. backing the opposition and the rebels, others like Iran backing the Syrian regime, which is under immense pressure and losing ground, but then also within the past 48 hours reports that Israel carried out air strikes against targets inside Syria and then promises of revenge coming not only from the Syrian regime, but also its allies in Lebanon, Hezbollah, and from the Iranian government.

But inside Turkey, it's important to point out, John, there are a whole host of organizations that have carried out acts of political violence within the last five years. And, again, I'll mention, they range from leftists to a Kurdish separate group known as the PKK. Al Qaeda has carried out deadly bombings within the last decade. And then you have this bleeding sore of the Syrian civil war that has been spilling over borders as well.

So we'll have to take some time to figure out who is behind this, and at this point, they are still trying to collect the wounded and the casualties from the explosion and the embassy very much on lockdown in the wake of the deadly blast.

BERMAN: Ivan Watson in Jerusalem covering this story for us, important context, thank you very much, Ivan. CNN reporting one person killed, two others wounded. Ankara police say it was a suicide bomber outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: We'll stay on top of that story obviously and the other stories as we have lots of breaking news this morning.

Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel could be in trouble as he pretty much stumbled his way through confirmation hearings yesterday. We'll talk to Republican Senator Dan Coats from the state of Indiana who says he will vote against him. That's up next.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. We're following this breaking news, suicide bombing that has taken place outside the U.S. embassy in Turkey. These are the live pictures now of the scene. One person is reported dead, two others hurt. I want to get right to Senator Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana. He joins us from Capitol Hill. He is formerly ambassador to Germany. Senator, thank you for joining us. Let's talk about the blast that's happened in front of the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey. What are you hearing about the situation, sir?

SEN. DAN COATS, (R) INDIANA: U.S. presence everywhere in the world is under threat, and I think we have to be very careful about how we deploy our ambassadors and those who are representing the United States. We live in a dangerous time and there are a number of entities want to harm us. So I think this is just another example that we have many challenges in front of us on a security front.

O'BRIEN: We're continuing to watch what happens there. We're getting preliminary information about one person dead, a couple of other people have been wounded and it appears to be a suicide bombing that has taken place.

Let's talk about the Chuck Hagel hearing yesterday. Which was I thought in terms of performance kind of a mess for him. Here is an op-ed from Chris Lizza of "The Fix" blog, "Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel was at turns halting, befuddled, often just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next secretary of defense. And it almost certainly won't keep him from becoming the next man to lead the Pentagon." What do you think were his actual I guess content stumbles? And do you agree it won't keep him from coming the next secretary of defense?

COATS: As most of us know, Chuck Hagel had a spotty record relative to policy positions that would put him in a position to mainstream policy as secretary of defense. I don't think he did himself any good yesterday in terms of how he addresses -- seemed very uncomfortable to many of the questions. He left the impression of who is the real Chuck Hagel, the one who took extreme positions, outside the democrat or Republican administrations or the Chuck Hagel trying to recast himself once he is nominated? He stumbled on some key questions, had to be corrected on a couple of issues. I don't think it was a good day for Chuck Hagel.

O'BRIEN: One of the issues you are very interested in is the issue of containment. I want to play a little bit about what he said about containment that he to be corrected on. Let's listen to that first.

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CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I've just been handed a note that I -- I misspoke and said I support e supported the president's position on containment. If I said that, I meant to say, obviously his position on containment, we don't have a position on containment.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Just to make sure your correction is clear, we do have a position on containment, which is we do not favor containment.

HAGEL: We do not favor containment, that's the president's position and that is my position.

LEVIN: I just wanted to clarify the clarify.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That was Senator Levin helping him out there a little bit. I guess the takeaway seems to be you are concerned that he is not going to take military action no matter what, if, in fact, he is sworn in as secretary of defense. Is that your big worry on that issue?

COATS: My biggest concern is his position on Iran. Iran is relentlessly pursuing nuclear capability. This is not just a threat to the Middle East, but to the world. In four presidents, two Republicans, two Democrats, including this president, says this is totally unacceptable. Yet Chuck Hagel's position on sanctions and the kind of thing we need to do to prevent this is not in tune of where we need to go to address this.

I think this is the number one challenge to the United States from a foreign policy statement and the national security standpoint, and Chuck Hagel is simply off the page on this, and that was the primary reason I could not support him, whether it is Republican or Democrat, support someone that took that position.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back are to where we began, Chris Lizza saying it won't keep him from becoming the next man to lead the Pentagon. By some counts it looks like he has 56 votes, which would be enough to pass, maybe not enough to stave off a filibuster. Where does this go?

COATS: I think it's too early to tell. Based on the performance yesterday, I think new questions will arise. If Democrats want to salute the president and turn their head the other way, I suppose he could be nominated. But I do think Democrats and Republicans have some real questions about whether this is the right person for this critical position.

O'BRIEN: You think the 56 votes aren't really 56 votes after yesterday?

COATS: I would want to go back and recount those after yesterday if I were endorsing Senator Hagel.

O'BRIEN: Senator Dan Coats from Indiana joining us this morning. Thank you for talking with us.

COATS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Obviously we'll continue to talk about what happened yesterday. That was such a -- I mean, the testimony by Chuck Hagel was just a mess, and I think what Senator Coats said about recounting those numbers, right? It all comes down to numbers, it's going to be fascinating.

BERMAN: In seven-and-a-half hours he had three boards to prepare for those hearing, but still he did not look particularly prepared. SOCARIDES: Here is someone who has been on the other side of the hearings. He certainly knew what was coming, plenty of time to prepare. This was -- you knew this was going to be tough. But someone going into this would have been perfectly prepared. And it didn't show.

O'BRIEN: We're also staying on top of that story out of Turkey, breaking news outside of the U.S. embassy, a suicide bombing there. One person dead, others injured. We're going to take you live to Turkey with an update on what's happening. We'll bring in our STARTING POINT team on that.

More breaking news this morning, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is dead. We'll have a look at his legacy, straight ahead this morning. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. There's been a suicide bombing outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara. One person dead, several others are reported to be injured. I want to get right to Istanbul where Gu (ph) Tiez (ph) has an update for on what is happening there. Thank you. I think we have you by phone. Can you tell us the situation there as we look at live pictures of the aftermath of the suicide bombing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, Turkish security forces have cordoned off a large perimeter around the embassy. There are helicopters flying over, establishing a secure zone. This is common procedure in Turkey to prevent a possible second blast from occurring.

Right now we don't know very much. We know one person according to state media has lost their life in this attack and more injured. They have dispatched ambulances and firefighters to the area. But it's still unclear what the extent of the damage is. This -- the American embassy in Ankara is actually in a very secure location right by other ministries, usually police protection on that street. And this blast occurred outside the second gate of the American embassy. And so far that's all we know.

O'BRIEN: All right, Gu (ph) Tiez (ph) updating from Istanbul about the blast that's taken place outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara. We continue to update and monitor the story. They have closed off a large perimeter, which is typical after any kind of crisis like this. Unclear at this point of the extent of the damage. One person reported dead, two others reported injured.

I want to get our team this morning. Ryan Lizza is with us. He's the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," Richard Socarides has been with us all morning, former senior adviser to President Clinton. Will Cain is a contributor to TheBlaze.com.

It's been interesting to see the aftermath of this. So little is known about the explosion, which is very typical as this information comes in. You start seeing live pictures, where usually they are crowd shots. It's too hard to get very close. It's reported to be at the second gate of the embassy and in the report, it was also said in a location quite secure because there are a number of other ministries there.

BERMAN: Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, is not the cosmopolitan center of Turkey. That's Istanbul. Ankara is the government center and is made for these types of situations, very secure, kind of a sleepy city.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We continue to look for answers and more information, it's impossible to separate from the context of news, yesterday, where Israel had a strike on Syrian weapons traveling toward Hezbollah, which prompted calls from Syrian Bashar al-Assad leader and Iran saying there will be retribution.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure as they continue to investigate to see exactly what was the link or the cause of this explosion, suicide bombing. One person reported dead, two others reported injured at this time. We'll stay on top of the story throughout the day.

Also this morning more breaking news, the former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is dead. We'll take a look this morning at this legacy. He was 88 years old. We back in just a moment.